The Paralympics in Rio could change the way people think for good

The London Paralympic Games was considered the most spectacular Paralympic Games ever. Instantly, non-disabled people changed their expectations of disabled people, while nearly three million tickets were sold, a record-breaking number of athletes were involved and a record number of countries took part. It seems as though many had already written off Rio coming anywhere near to matching London’s spectacle before the Games had started. Yet, Rio could have a greater legacy than London.

In the UK, Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics, in particular, the programme The Last Leg, encouraged conversations to take place about inclusion. While there is still a long way to go before disabled people’s rights are truly recognised and respected, the Paralympics certainly adjusted the mindset of non-disabled individuals. 

Worldwide, people were discussing the Paralympics in the same vein that they were discussing the Olympics – it was no longer second best. This was in large part down to the fact that more broadcasters than ever before covered the games. The wheelchair basketball player and TV presenter, Ade Adepitan, put it best when he said: “I’ve seen our sport go from one man and his dog watching you to tens of thousands of people watching you. When I started a lot of people looked at our sports as forms of recreation and rehabilitation. They didn’t look at us as elite-level athletes. I said, ‘One day people will respect us, they will understand that what we do is every bit as important and hard as any able-bodied athlete.’ Now it’s actually happening it can be overwhelming. When someone asks for my autograph it blows my mind.” 

The Games in London changed people’s perceptions, but the Rio Games can go further. Disability rights activists in Rio are hopeful that the Paralympics will lead to a permanent change in the hearts and minds of the non-disabled. An online crowdfunding campaign has been set up so that Brazilian children can go and see the Games, with over $200,000 being raised. Abby Dunkin, who is on the U. S’s wheelchair basketball team argued “It's more than just playing our game. It's more about the movement and educating everyone outside." Ahmed Habib, a ‘disability expert’ said: “All we can hope is that people are watching the Paralympics at home and they start conversations with their families and their colleagues and realise that their perceptions about disabled people have been wrong all along the way."  The Games provide the perfect opportunity to inspire, educate and change minds. This was done in 2012 when conversations around inclusion started and disabled athletes were no longer seen as people to pity, but as the Games came to a close and the flame flickered, the discourse around disability reduced. 

Rio 2016 will be the chance for the conversations to be revisited. This time, we should ensure that the rights of disabled people, and our desire to create a more inclusive society, remain forever. Rio could be the very place that this happens! The Paralympics changing attitudes of the non-disabled forever is not just a nice thing; it's vital. At Disability Africa, we see every day disabled children's lives being transformed - sometimes literally being saved - as the communities around them become more Inclusive.